A sparsely attended but lively discussion about H-2A guest workers highlighted Wednesday’s proceedings at the Empire State Producers Expo in Syracuse, New York.

One New York apple grower complained during the question and answer portion of a labor session that New York State labor officials force them to hire bad workers because of H-2A visa rules that require them to try to fill positions with qualified domestic employees before bringing in guest workers.

“It’s frustrating for us,” he said.

Of course, the representative of the state’s Department of Labor at the conference couldn’t answer the man’s question definitively without more specifics and documentation, and other growers rallied to the agency’s defense. But the interchange touched a nerve, and the 15 or so people in the room followed with a spirited but civil discussion about the benefits and pitfalls of the nation’s complex guest worker program, which more and more fruit growers are using to meet their seasonal labor needs in spite of the high risk of litigation.

Also Wednesday, Mary Jo Dudley of the Cornell Farmworker Program discussed the results of interviews with both farm owners and employees, retired Cornell plant pathologist David Rosenberger discussed the mysterious Sudden Apple Decline that has New York researchers scratching their heads, and Yakima’s Ines Hanrahan spoke twice in the tree fruit horticulture session about Honeycrisp best practices and reducing the spread of foodborne pathogens through orchard management. Hanrahan is a program manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

The Expo continues Thursday in the Oncenter Convention Center in Syracuse.